A company billing itself as offering the only viable, non-PVC shrink film for food wrap in North America is preparing to ship its health-conscious product commercially for the first time and is looking for a production site.
Diamant Film Inc., a new company in Markham, Ontario, is shopping a three-layer, polystyrene film to supermarket chains in the United States and Canada, Chief Executive Officer Stefan Gudmundsson said July 1. Several smaller chains are testing the product, used to wrap meat and poultry that is sold on store shelves, Gudmundsson said.
While Gudmundsson was careful not to criticize the use of PVC film to pack meat, he said the PVC substitute is being offered for those who have health or environmental concerns about PVC or the toxicity of plasticizers used with the material. For a small price premium, grocery stores - and eventually consumers and the institutional market - can move away from PVC, he said.
``People will argue, and many will say there is nothing wrong with PVC,'' he said. ``But this product is selling well over a lot of Western Europe. Many people in Europe say they would rather be safe than sorry.''
The company has 10-year, exclusive licensing agreements from the product's developer, stretch film producer Alimantis AG of Rorschach, Switzerland. The agreements in the United States and Canada, both signed in late June, call for Diamant to ship the film from Switzerland to North America for one year and then manufacture the product at a North American site.
Diamant will select a site for film extrusion this summer, probably in the United States, Gudmundsson said. Plans call for the facility to have about 35,000 square feet, 15 employees and a customized blown film line made by Alimantis. The film will be sold under the Diamant Stretchfilm brand name. Diamant is a French word for diamond, connoting the film's clarity, he said.
Alimantis bought the film-production operations of Rorschach-based Permapak AG in 2003. Permapak took 10 years to develop the PS film, spending close to $4 million in the process, Gudmundsson said.
The film is blown, allowing it to be stretched in every direction, and is as transparent as stretch film, he said. Printing can be added to the film, unlike with most PVC stretch film, and Diamant plans to add a flexographic printing line once production begins in North America, he said.
Alimantis is selling the film through most of Western Europe, including supermarket chains in Italy and Germany, Gudmundsson said. That continent also boasts several other non-PVC, food-approved films, most of which are cast films, he said.
Gudmundsson said the casting process produces less-flexible film that cannot be stretched as easily. The Diamant film is manufactured with a middle layer of PS surrounded by two barrier layers containing anti-fogging agents and ethylene vinyl alcohol copolymers for oxygen protection, he said.
Other non-PVC films for food wrap have turned black due to oxygen permeation, he said. The Permapak process prevents oxygen from penetrating the film surface, while keeping the meat moist for longer shelf life, Gudmundsson said. The product also is available at close to the same price as PVC film, unlike more-expensive past attempts, he said.
The non-PVC product counteracts the threat of legislation to limit the use of PVC, Gudmundsson said. New York is considering state restrictions on PVC in food wrap, citing potentially harmful effects.
However, he said the film will be sold to those desiring an alternative, not as a campaign against PVC film.
Within the next decade, the company would like to carve out about a 15 percent share of the North American food-wrap market. Currently, about $700 million worth of food wrap is sold annually in North America, Gudmundsson said.
While the company's first step is to sell to supermarket meat packagers, Diamant also plans to distribute the film for institutional uses - including catering - and directly to consumers, competing with brands such as Saran Wrap and Reynolds Wrap.
Diamant has tested the film on extrusion equipment at its Markham headquarters, where the company employs five people, Gudmundsson said. The greatest challenge was making certain the film could be used for larger packages, he said.
``In Europe, people go to the supermarket every day and buy smaller amounts of pork chops and other meat,'' said Gudmundsson, a native of Iceland who immigrated to Canada in 1969. ``In North America, we go once a week and might buy a 12-pack of pork chops.''
The film has been approved by the Canadian government and qualifies for nonobjection status with the Food and Drug Administration in the United States, the company said.
Diamant is a subsidiary of Markham-based ART International Corp., a holding company traded publicly on the over-the-counter bulletin board.
For legal reasons, the agreements with Alimantis first were signed by Diamant Plastics Corp., a privately held company that includes the same management as Diamant Film, said Diamant spokesman David Zazoff. The contracts then were passed to Diamant Film, he said.